Ganges River Cleanup Creates Compromise With Cultural Practices

Ganges River pic

Ganges River
Image: telegraph.co.uk

Former Judge Paul Seeman has worked for many years in juvenile law in Alameda County, California. With a focus on mental health issues, Paul Seeman has been nominated for and received a number of awards. Outside of his interests in his work, he also maintains an interest in environmental law and was involved in an international effort to clean up the Ganges River in India.

India is primarily a Hindu country, and the Ganges River in northern India is the most sacred river in the Hindu tradition. In Hindu society, many visit the river to bathe in it due to the importance of cleanliness in their practices. Another ancient practice is to burn deceased bodies on funeral pyres on the river, after which the ashes are spread across the river.

However, a major problem faces the river and its visitors: although it is used by nearly a half billion people, it is highly polluted because cities dump raw sewage directly into the river system. It is also affected by industrial run-off and unsound sanitation practices. This pollution is a major cause of bacterial and water-borne diseases that affect a staggering number people every year, especially infants and children.

An international group of environmental lawyers and financial institutions have gathered since the 1980s to push efforts to clean up the Ganges River. Various methods of cleanup have been proposed, but without scientific understanding and governmental regulations, the efforts are difficult to achieve. The matter is complicated by the need not only clean up the river but to also persuade Hindu people of the need for a compromise between ancient cultural practices and environmental and health issues.

Ganges River Has Extremely High Pollution Levels

Ganges River pic

Ganges River
Image: telegraph.co.uk

Former California judge Paul Seeman earned his law degree from Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. Possessing a strong professional interest in international environmental law, Paul Seeman participated in efforts to clean the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Revered by Hindus as a sacred river, the Ganges has dangerously high levels of pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

As the WHO notes, the levels of toxins, bacteria, and other pollutants in the Ganges are in places almost 3,000 times more than safe limits. Despite these risks, more than 420 million people rely on the Ganges for basic needs, such as bathing and agriculture. Experts suggest that rising population in India over the past two decades coupled with lenient industrial regulations have contributed to pollution in the Ganges.

In late 2014, the Indian Supreme Court mandated that the government develop a concrete, multistage plan to rejuvenate the river. Moreover, during his election campaign, the current Indian prime minister had made promises to achieve cleanup of the Ganges within three years after taking office.